WASHINGTON — Black Lives Matter organizers are ramping up their plans to protest Donald Trump through the remainder of the presidential campaign and have begun cobbling together a coalition of civil rights and left-leaning advocacy organizations to bring a larger and more sophisticated movement to bear on the GOP frontrunner — and any politicians or corporations that are aligned with him.
The effort is in its infancy: A group of activists and strategists held their first conference call to discuss the push Tuesday evening. A second call with national progressive organizations is planned for Thursday evening, sources involved in the discussions said.
Protesters hope the organization bolsters already massive demonstrations against Trump amid a two-week long stretch of violent and tense confrontations at Trump’s rallies in Fayetteville, Louisville, Charlotte, and Chicago.
“A growing consciousness exists among people that reject this right-wing extremism,” Aislinn Pulley, the co-founder of Black Lives Matter Chicago, told BuzzFeed News. “The momentum that has surfaced against Donald Trump reflects honest responses from ordinary people who have to deal with the real consequences of the policies that he advocates for.”
While Illinois voted in its presidential primary election Tuesday, a national conference call was convened between movement leaders. A mix of progressives from around the country and from national organizations participated in the call, as well as BLM strategists, demonstrators, and messaging experts eager to figure out ways to assist.
One of the key issues discussed was the effectiveness of direct action protests at Trump events. Although the actions draw media coverage, two sources on the call said organizers worry that because Trump seems to be immune to shame, these protests simply put black activists in harm’s way but have little effect on Trump.
“It was tough to think about this idea that a black person goes to do an action at a Trump rally and gets beat up, and then it wasn’t exactly forcing a shift in the discussion about Trump we desired,” said one organizer, who asked BuzzFeed News to withhold their name from this story because they were still reaching out to groups. “It was almost annoying to watch.”
Ben Wikler, the Washington director of MoveOn.org, which circulated an online petition before the fracas at a Trump rally in Chicago, said Trump is a “five-alarm fire for Democracy,” which is why his group has committed to coordinating marches, calling on people to denounce him and mobilizing voters to cast votes against him. Wikler said a key part of the organizing is coalition building: MoveOn.org will engage immigrants, Muslims, undocumented people, and blacks. “Really, anyone in Trump’s crosshairs,” he said.
“It’s an early moment in the national progressive movement, but I think there’s a sense in the progressive world that has been watching in horror but hasn’t yet jumped in the fray that it’s time now to jump in with both feet.”
The effort to try and bridge the gaps that have long separated progressive movements isn’t exactly new: In the late '90s and early 2000s, for instance, labor organizers and environmentalists tried and failed to create a dynamic “Blue Green” coalition on climate change issues.
Similarly, civil rights groups and environmentalists have long struggled to find a way to come together on environmental justice issues, with varying degrees of local success but so far no serious national presence.
For years, racial justice organizations and other left leaning groups have had a tense relationship. Older, more established progressive groups chafe at the more urgent, radical approaches of groups like BLM, while Black Lives Matter activists complain that other groups — like the environmental movement and women’s rights movement — are largely run by white people and don’t adequately work with communities of color.
But Trump’s rhetoric and meteoric rise has spurred an urgency work out their differences.
“This moment requires us to find to ways to work together,” said Rashad Robinson, the executive director of the progressive advocacy group Color of Change, whose co-founder, Van Jones, has passionately condemned Trump’s rhetoric on CNN. “While differences may exist, we’ve still got to leverage multiple strategies, from news and media outlets giving us 24-hour coverage of Trump rallies because it’s good for business, to Republican leaders who still support him if he is their party's nominee, to the corporations like Coca-Cola who still align their brand with Trump's hateful movement.”
As Black Lives Matter continues to coalesce into a coherent national movement, one of the biggest challenges facing BLM organizers is a lack of resources, something they hope the new coalition can help address as it relates to Trump, ranging from direct action and media training to help dispatching pundits to TV and radio.
And there’s another resource activists say they’re in desperate need of: white people. Specifically working-class whites, whom they believe they can make common cause with and, more importantly, could help undercut Trump’s appeal to that demographic and that in the future it won’t “just [be] black folks out in the muck,” a source on the call said.
"Black people, immigrants, and people of color are putting their bodies on the line to disrupt Trump and the racism he uses to mobilize his supporters. White people need to grab our families, friends, and communities and follow their lead,” said Todd Zimmer, a North Carolinian who was a part of an action at the Trump rally in Fayetteville, and is one of driving forces behind the Stop Trump National Network Facebook page. “It’s time to shut Trump down, especially since he is counting on white voters to win the election.”
“White people need to take inspiration from movements like Black Lives Matter and Not One More and work to end racism. All together we can make this country great for everyone, for the first time."
Beyond Trump, activists are also setting their sights on Sen. Ted Cruz, and anyone else they view as either supporting or profiting from Trump’s angry, populist rhetoric.
“Do you have to start taking Cruz more seriously, too? It’s something we’re asking ourselves,” one organizer said. “It’s not same rhetoric, but his policies are just as dangerous and crazy.”
For Robinson, it’s not just about going after Trump. He said the organization will go after corporations it feels is enabling him. “In partnership we’ll focus on all the institutions and individuals putting profits or political party over our nation's future.”